Hey guys! I haven’t posted in a few days because MY POPS came to visit with one of his best friends from high school as well as one of our best friends from high school 😀 We got to experience an absolutely EPIC few days at three of Colorado’s top ski mountains: Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin. We celebrated my birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, amazing powder, and reunions and couldn’t have had a better time. I want to recap the type of snowfall I’m talking about for this trip to have reached Status: Epic.
Snowfall over the past 7 days:
- Keystone — 39″
- Breckenridge — 41″ (!!!)
- Arapahoe Basin — 29″
Our first two days at Keystone and Breckenridge were full of snow. In fact, it didn’t really stop snowing until around 1pm on Friday 3/18. This was awesome, however I didn’t get ANY pictures from those days! So, I’m going to provide some background, borrowed pictures and standout stats from all three of these incredible places. I just don’t have it in me to create this post without some shots of the spring powder we were lucky enough to ski in.
And put some WERK in!
Because ungroomed powder skiing was a real leg crusher. Especially when you have the wrong type of goggles that are not made for flat light, therefore piles of snow on the ground rush into your field of vision at the last possible second — much later than I would prefer to stay sane and keep control.
But it was still awesome.
And we’re all still here to live another day.
Some may call it good conditions. Some might say good equipment.
I just call it mad skillz, y’all.
Day 1: Keystone
The part of the Rockies here in Colorado that we love and enjoy so far is a portion of what are called the Southern Rocky Mountains and they are geologically a little different than the other three sections (Canadian, Middle, and Colorado plateau) . This was a result of their unique formation and subsequent erosion millions of years ago which sets them apart in their own division of the range. Apparently, if that erosion I just mentioned would not have occurred, many of the peaks in the Southern Rockies would be twice the size that they are now! Yowza. The Southern section already contains the highest peaks of the range with the tallest, Mt. Elbert, clocking in at 14,440 feet.
What the locals would call a “fourteener”.
As some of you may know, much of the initial modern-day exploration of the Rocky Mountains was driven by mining and fur efforts led on behalf of the Europeans. Silver, gold, lead and zinc are commonly found here, as well as some petroleum, shale and natural gas deposits. There are also plenty of coal reserves, among a plethora of other natural resources. You can still pass by several mines along the drive to the resorts from Denver, some of which are still active.
Fast forward to 1970. According to a remembrance article from the Summit Daily in 2011, Max Dercum, a man passionate about skiing who taught himself how at a young age by reading the manual that came with his first pair of skis, began a partnership with an investor named Bill Bergman to build Keystone Resort. Max already had begun mapping out several of the intended ski runs with plaster-of-Paris prior to making the deal a success (pretty amazing) and once the resort opened, he ran the ski school as well as managed the trails and lifts. Having also been the braintrust behind the opening of Arapahoe Basin in 1946, he and his wife, Edna, were inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1980. The resort merged with Vail Resorts in 1997, but the Dercums’ legacy lives on as one of the three mountains at the resort was named Dercum Mountain in their honor in 2003.
Fun facts about Keystone that I found on their website:
- The summit comes in at 12,408 feet (3,782 m) and the resort’s total vertical rise is 3,128 feet (953 m)
- Consists of three peaks (Dercum, North Peak and the Outback) and five bowls (Independence, Bergman, Erickson, North and South Bowls)
- The largest mountain resort in Summit County, CO stretching seven miles with 3,148 skiable acres, 135 trails and 230 inches average snowfall (also the second largest resort in the state by acreage) running right along the Snake River
- Offers the largest selection of night skiing in the state
- Contains the A51 Terrain Park with 60+ acres along with a specific lift servicing it
- Boasts a 5-acre outdoor Zamboni-maintained ice skating rink (North America’s largest!)
- CAT skiing tours available in the Independence bowl
- Offers tons of fun activities, including snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and dogsled tours where you even get to learn to drive the sleds!
- As part of Vail Resorts, mountain and personal ski stats (including lift wait times, vertical feet earned, and fun challenges) can be automatically tracked via the EpicMix App. I’d post my stats from Keystone on Thursday if it didn’t also display my picture… my 8:00AM ski-face is truly a scary thing.
- Also offers summer activities such as mountain biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, and golf available at either of two championship 18-hole courses
- From the Keystone Resort Wiki Page: “The Ski area operates on National Forest System lands under special use permit to the Forest Service. The 30-year special use permit assigns to the permit holder only a portion of the bundle of rights normally associated with real estate ownership. For the privilege of using federal lands the ski area pays an annual fee of about one dollar per skier visitor to the U.S. Treasury. Twenty-five percent of those fees are returned to Summit County, Colorado, for roads and schools.” Pretty cool!
Keystone Trail Map (You know you wanna)
Day 2: Breckenridge
I MEAN. That shot! Sunrise over Breckenridge…. beautiful.
As the snow continued throughout our second ski day, we tore through fresh powder and even encountered a brief whiteout on Peak 6. About a week ago, it was brought to my attention what a gaper gap is, and the unfortunate fact that I happen to have one with my current gear, and now I feel like a total goober skiing around all these experts with my sweet gap hanging out, brah. Not to mention, now that I’m aware of it, I notice the snow that gets trapped in there on powder days like Friday, and my forehead throbs and my new found Colorado dignity lessens a bit, but we’ll be okay in the long run.
Now for the history…
The Breckenridge official site has a great history timeline that I am pulling the gist from for those interested in more information.
In 1859, gold was discovered in the area along the Blue River, and those who first rushed in set up a base camp there. The area was to later be called Breckenridge although this original base camp no longer exists. For the next few decades, merchants and miners continued to flock to the area and in 1882, the first railroad was built there. In 1898, snow fell every single day from November to February in what was called “the Big Snow”. Can you imagine? That same year, a gang including a man named Pug Ryan robbed the Denver Hotel in Breckenridge. Everyone in the gang besides ol’ Pug died in a shootout during the robbery, but he managed to escape and bury his stolen loot. Ten years later in 1908, some schoolchildren found the treasure! That’s the stuff kids’ dreams are made out of!
The resort opened in December of 1961 and received 17,000 visitors that first season regardless of the fact that I-70 wasn’t even complete to Summit County yet! In 1971, Peak 9 was the first to be opened and 10 years later in 1981 it received the world’s first high speed quad chair lift which started a revolution for high speed chairs. Like Keystone, Breckenridge also merged with Vail Resorts in 1997, and that makes Breck EpicMix eligible too 😀
- Summit elevation of 12,998 feet (3,963 m) and a vertical rise 3,398 feet (1,036 m) with 300 inches of average yearly snowfall
- The ski resort is located within a nice bunch of fourteeners which actually improve the chances of snowfall over Breck
- Vail Resorts and Breckenridge work with local and federal agencies to uphold conservation efforts through environmentally-conscious construction, education on global warming, research and forest rejuvenation
- Anybody love roller coasters as much as me?! The Gold Runner Coaster is located at the base of peak 8.
- Starlight dinners offered at the top of peak 9 every Thursday through Saturday. I’d be willing to bet the view is pretty nice that high up without light pollution!
- Several different options exist for activities such as ghost tours, historical museums, and mining adventures
- Every year since 1981 they host the Breckenridge Festival of Film
- Parts of both National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Dumb and Dumber were filmed there (Aspen was actually Breck!). I want to hope that the Christmas tree scene in Christmas Vacay and also the sledding scene were filmed here, so I can perhaps step where Chevy Chase’s crazy ass once shot down the mountain into a Walmart parking lot on a metal sled coated with that “new non-caloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant” his company had been working on…
- The International Snow Sculpture Championships are held every January, where sculptors from around the world compete to create impressive masterpieces from twenty ton blocks of snow
Day 3: Arapahoe Basin
There’s A-Basin in part of it’s above-the-treeline glory!
We actually have Keystone/A-Basin season passes, but this one isn’t actually a “resort”. This place is what the locals call “the Legend”. There is no village at the base and therefore no terribly family-friendly additional activities are truly offered outside of lessons. This keeps the traffic down somewhat and causes it to be a “where the locals go” type place. If you didn’t already know this, you might be able to tell, for instance, by all the hitchhikers you see on the pass looking for rides up the mountain to do some backcountry skiing. Or perhaps the tailgates that go on ALL DAY in the reserved front row parking in the carpool lot at the base. As a matter of fact, would you believe that our first trip to A-Basin also happened to be the day the Virginia Tech Alumni Association had a huge tailgate and group ski day going on? IT. WAS. AWESOME.
I didn’t even know it was coming. The orange and maroon!!!! Urrrrrrwhere!!! It was pure, extreme, unadulterated happiness I experienced that day.
Anyway, our day at A-Basin on Saturday was the first day of our trip that the sun came out, giving us a bluebird day that ended in me having a pretty disgusting sun/wind burn on only half of my face thanks to my gaper-gapping goggles, and a frightening bright red nose to boot. But despite the harsh sun up where even the base of the mountain is above 10,000 feet, a lot of the slopes were groomed, which we all agreed was a nice way to end three days of skiing in a row and allowed our legs to physically withstand alllllllll that pow.
History buff people, are you still with me?
Remember Max Dercum? Almost 25 years before Keystone, he and his wife Edna founded Arapahoe Basin in 1946 and it opened with one mid-mountain to summit tow rope! Visitors’ access cost them only $3 each. Chair lifts were installed the following season and were actually the first post-WWII chair lifts to be put in.
That big beast of a mountain that is in the picture above is mostly the East Wall, a section of the ski-able acreage since 1970. All those little chutes of snow are where the experts play when the real snow moves in enough to open the Wall. We saw plenty of people following the trail (about half way up) on Saturday and just dropping in and skiing down the mountain from there. I even saw children doing this and thought that somebody’s mommy would be very, very mad at somebody’s daddy when she finds out that little Johnny blasted down the East Wall that day, but perhaps those kids are little prodigies. Or maybe daddy knows he will be sleeping on the couch for the next week unless he pays little Johnny in candy, or iPad apps, or whatever the kids are doing these days, to keep their little secret. Who can say?
All I know is that these brave, thrill-seeking folks looked like little crazy-fuck ants to me, etching their way across this mountain face, hiking up and then flying down. Kudos. But not me, friends. I choose life!
Fun facts about the Basin:
- Summit peaks at 13,050 feet (3,978 m) with a vertical rise of 2,270 feet (692 m) and average annual snowfall of 350 inches
- According to the official site, the Treeline Terrain Park is the highest terrain park in North America with the longest season and a dedicated crew works to add improvements each and every year
- The Full Moon Snowshoe Dinner Series is a recent addition featuring a gourmet dinner at the Black Mountain Lodge, complete with live music and a leisurely snowshoe trip down the mountain at the Continental Divide. This has been selling out well in advance so I’m gonna need to get my name on the list for next year! We did eat at the Lodge for lunch on our trip and I can say that it 1) was delicious and 2) had some authentic mountain choices that you don’t see every day, including bison stew.
- A-Basin is known for its extended season; it usually closes in June and sometimes even July. The area along the front row of parking where the tailgates go down and you see lots of people relaxing in lawn chairs is called “the Beach”. I’m just gonna say… you see a lot of coolers and red Solo cups in this area. Whatever that means…
- In 2008, the area expanded by 80% when they opened the Montezuma Bowl on the other side of the mountain, adding 400 acres of ski-able terrain! What an acquisition that was. By the way, here is a South-facing panoramic shot of the view from the top of the Montezuma Bowl:
You can see Keystone and Breckenridge both off in the distance! Just awesome.
So that was basically our trip! On top of the powder experience to top all of our powder experiences to date combined, we got to hang out with our old friends Pabst, Budweiser and Jack (with some local craft beer trials and smiles as well).
Not at all related to the aforementioned statement, I realized the importance of wearing a helmet when my ski tip caught on a mound of ice one day as I was coming off the lift and the chair swung around and clunked me in the head. MAYBE MY DAD AND FRIENDS WILL INVEST IN RENTING HELMETS NEXT YEAR. Juuuuust sayin’.
I got locked IN the car waiting on everyone to rent their skis. I decided to stay in the car, and played on my phone as everyone got out. Then I heard the doors shut. Then I heard them lock. I didn’t think anything of this until I suddenly remembered that I did need to go inside to get a new pair of ski gloves. I tried my door in the back seat. LOCKED. I tried hitting the unlock button on the driver side door. IT DID NOT UNLOCK. I tried hitting the button for the keyless engine start so maybe said unlock button would work. IT DIDN’T WORK. I tried pulling up on the door locks to manually unlock the door. DIDN’T WORK. Damn, I thought, who gets locked IN a car???? It was freezing cold, and I started noticing it. I started noticing how I had to pee. How I was hungry. I knew everyone either had their cell phones off or in the car with me. I started wondering, IS THERE ENOUGH OXYGEN IN HERE? Then I got an idea. I tried pulling the handle on the driver’s side door. The car immediately started alarming. Slow at first, and then it got louder and more demanding. Then it stopped. I was watching these two men standing on the corner looking in my general direction wondering why this Tahoe was so angry. I decided to try again because hey, I already set it off once and what’s the harm in one more time? I threw the door open and hopped out with the car beginning to alarm again as these men stared at me like maybe I had been kidnapped and was making my escape. I went running by them yelling, “bet ya don’t see THAT every day!”
They didn’t even say a word.
We got to join everyone else in the bar one night as we watched some college kids from Texas try multiple times to get their rear-wheel drive Mustang out of the extremely snowy parking lot. There are most definitely videos of this somewhere on the Internet. You get judged pretty good engaging in such activities in Colorado during their snowiest month.
We got stranded by an Uber one night and were forced to take three buses home, adding what surely was 2 hours to what should have been a very short ride home. But I am confident that we helped a young Peruvian man with his English when he told us “I’m in this country to learn English” and we proceeded to drunkenly barrage him with a real smorgasbord of questions that I am also confident he did not fully understand. It was a learning experience for all of us, but I really feel good to have been of service to him.
And we probably reminded him why you don’t talk to strangers on a bus in the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the night.